The attacker, named last night by local media as Eden Tsuberi, 19, was then killed by an enraged crowd which stormed the bus in the northern Israeli Arab town of Shfaram. For four hours they prevented police from recovering the body.
Late last night police finally removed the body of the gunman from inside the bus and drove the vehicle away. They were pelted with bottles and stones. Security sources said the gunman had deserted from the Israeli army more than a month ago to register his opposition towards the disengagement from Gaza.
Ministers described the attack, in which 12 other people were wounded, as a "terrorist" act. Some sources identified the perpetrator as an activist in the outlawed extreme-right Kach movement who had recently moved to the West Bank settlement of Tapuah. The settlement is a stronghold of the movement which was established by the US-born rabbi Meir Kahane. Assassinated 15 years ago, Kahane believed in expelling Arabs from Israel.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, described the attack as "a sinful act by a bloodthirsty terrorist". Mr Sharon is accused by some among the far right of betrayal for having been the architect of the plan to withdraw 8,500 settlers from Gaza.
Mr Sharon, whose government is threatened with having to contain the kind of Arab backlash it was feared the most fanatic opponents of disengagement might seek to provoke, added in a statement issued by his office: "This terror incident is a deliberate attempt to harm the relations between the citizens of Israel. Terror between civilians is the most dangerous thing for the future of Israel and its democratic stability."
As a tense calm descended on Shfaram last night after the gunman's body was removed, Israeli Arab leaders called a strike throughout Arab areas of the country for today.
Local media reported that Avtihaj Salameh, a passenger on the No 165 bus at the time of the shooting, said that when the bus from Haifa entered Shfaram through a Druze neighbourhood, the driver asked passengers to request that the man dressed in an army uniform come up to him. The driver asked the man if he hadn't made a mistake in his destination, Ms Salameh said. Shfaram has almost no Jewish population.
Ms Salameh said the gunman stood by the driver for a few minutes. When the bus entered the Druze neighbourhood, she herself rang the bell signaling that she wanted to get off at the next stop. She stood by the rear door of the bus. She said that at that moment, the gunman, still standing by the driver, opened fire.
Army Radio said last night the victims were two men one possibly the driver and two women. Police said that the bearded gunman had worn a skullcap, apparently identifying him as an Orthodox Jew.
Tsuberi's parents told the daily newspaper Yedhiot Achronot that they had urged the Army to look for their son and warned it about his retention of an M-16 weapon. A reporter from Israel Radio, Carmella Meneshe, claimed last night that she had received a call a week ago from Tsuberi's mother asking for her help saying she believed he had been in Tapuach and still had a gun.
Ms Meneshe said that she had contacted the Israel Defence Forces press office who promised to call her with a response but had not yet done so.
As police mobilised in the north of Israel, apparently fearing possible disorder in Arab towns, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi acknowledged that the diversion of forces to deal with the threatened march on Gaza settlements by anti-pullout protesters had left him short-handed. "We have sent forces from the centre and those from the south who were supposed to be going home have been diverted to the north," he said.
The prominent Israeli Arab Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh said: "We are witnessing attempts by extreme right-wing people, terrorists, who want to set the region ablaze and feel they have freedom of action in light of the behaviour of the security, political and judicial establishment."Reuse content